Essays: Princely postures |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Princely postures

BACK from the USSR with renewed faith in the British way of life, I was eager to see how Prince Charles would handle The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal (all channels). He did very well.

There is nothing like Prince Charles on Russian television, which consists mainly of women announcers introducing one another. Prince Charles would have been recognised long ago as the most telegenic front-man in the world today, if it had not been for his Ear Problem. But familiarity is by now turning his Ear Problem into in asset, to go along with the other assets he already possesses in such abundance. Foremost among these, I need hardly point out, is his voice. He sounds as silky as Desmond Wilcox and as resonant as Ludovic Kennedy. A voice like that can talk you into anything.

Then there are his contacts. ‘So I asked my mother what she would like us to do.’ One of the things his mother would like us to do, it transpired, is help handicapped children. A worthy aim, but how to accomplish it? ‘My sister, Princess Anne, is Patron of the organisation.’ It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know, that matters.

In the course of a gruelling 20-minute format, Prince Charles showed an increasingly versatile command of posture. At the beginning he stood behind a chair. Later on he stood beside the chair. As a climax he sat in the chair. It was in this final relaxed attitude that he delivered his peroration. ‘We now come to the most important point in this gigantic operation. How can you help the Appeal?’ Answering his own question, he advised us to send our money directly to him. He can be reached at PO Box 977, Buckingham Palace, London SW1P 1AA

The response should be enormous. The only department in which his performance could be faulted was his choice of gestures. He keeps moving his hands about three feet apart and then bringing them together again. Either he is describing a salmon that got away, or he is setting up in competition with Joseph Cooper and his silent piano. Prince Charles and his invisible concertina!

It continues to rain Mitfords. The nicest of them, Jessica, was the subject of a good programme in The Lively Arts (BBC2). Apologists for her sisters Diana and Unity have been putting it about that it was forgivable for them to have been wrong about Hitler’s intentions. This argument gains some weight when you consider that Jessica was equally wrong about Stalin’s intentions. But really the difference is crucial. Until events in Hungary convinced even the dullest, there was some excuse for being fooled by the Soviet line, which claimed to be saving the World, whereas there was never any excuse for making a mistake about the Nazis, who were always very clear about their feelings towards the Jews. Jessica, self-exiled in America, found that only the Communist Party was ready to fight for civil rights. It is plain that what led her to align herself with them was good will rather than the will to power. This was an interesting show, almost, but not quite, worth missing ‘Roots’ for.

Another embodiment of good will was Marlon Brando, interviewed on Tonight (BBC1) by John Timpson. Brando was speaking on behalf of the American Indians. One measure of his stature is that he wouldn’t dream of coming on to speak on behalf of himself. Brando has always been ready to put a boot through Hollywood’s notion of decorum. What somebody said about James Joyce applies equally to the Wild One: they lionised him but he would not roar. Unfortunately he is no better than most other actors at speaking without a script, so his sincere feelings tended to be expressed in slightly attention-losing monologues, leaving you free to marvel at what looks like being Timpson’s successful bid for the title of Silliest Hair on TV.

It goes without saying that if Michael Heseltine were a telly regular then Timpson would not even be in with a chance, but unfortunately it is only on special occasions, like the latest Conservative Party Political Broadcast (all channels) that we get to see the Heseltine hirsutism spread to the breeze. Most of the breeze seemed to be blowing across a comprehensively buggered-up urban area for whose decrepitude the Labour Government is apparently to be held responsible. Posed trendily before the acreage of blight, Heseltine warned of the Left’s dangerously beavering energy. Like all men who dress younger than their years, he reminded you of time past. His nifty get-up breathes the hustling glamour of a bygone era.

Occupying the new ‘On the Spot’ spot on Nationwide (BBC1), Margaret Thatcher talked everyone into the ground. Not even Michael Barrett could interrupt her. China has done things for her confidence. But the most impressive political appearance of the week was made by Sidney Weighall on Tomorrow’s World (BBC1). Always the most articulate of the union leaders, Weighall outlined his vision of British Rail’s future, when it will take only a few people to control the entire system and you won’t even need a ticket. It was stressed that his was ‘a highly personal view’ — presumably lest Weighall’s rank-and-filers start ringing up the BBC to find out where they fit into Sid’s plans.

A bad clash between two potentially interesting plays, Blind Love (Granada) and The Country Party (BBC1). ‘Blind Love,’ taken from a short story by V. S. Pritchett, featured an O. Henry-cum-Maupassant plot in which a blind man and a disfigured girl became lovers. Sam Wanamaker walked convincingly into walls, Mary Peach acted with her customary fine judgment and Waris Hussein showed his usual dab hand with cameras, but when the fuss died down the tang of contrivance hung thick in the air.

‘The Country Party’ (BBC1) was better value. The successor to ‘The Saturday Party,’ repeated on the same channel the previous night, it had the same author, Brian Clark, and the same principal actors, headed by Peter Barkworth as the engaging chap who, after failing as a stockbroker, had now set about failing as a restaurateur. In the first play it had been his son who had delivered the ball-breaking remark that finished him off. In the new play it was the daughter. ‘You’re just a coward, daddy. You just let things happen to you. You’re a reed.’ Undermined by mistress, wife, offspring and thieving barman, once again he crashed to defeat. What will he cock up next?

There are some good singles on Top of the Pops (BBC1) just at the moment. 10cc, Rags and Joe Tex have all got numbers worth watching. So has Sir Huw Wheldon, fronting Royal Heritage (BBC1), a series in which our first family obligingly helps him out with the presentation. Prince Charles I have already discussed, but should add that his father is almost as accomplished. As Ray Davies put it during an excellent Old Grey Whistle Test (BBC2), everybody’s in showbiz, everybody’s a star.

The Observer, 1st May 1977